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A darkly comic debut novel about advertising, truth, single malt, Scottish hospitality—or lack thereof—and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.   Ray Welter, who was until recently a highflying advertising executive in Chicago, has left the world of newspeak behind. He decamps to the isolated Scottish Isle of Jura in order to spend a few months in the cottage where George A darkly comic debut novel about advertising, truth, single malt, Scottish hospitality—or lack thereof—and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.   Ray Welter, who was until recently a highflying advertising executive in Chicago, has left the world of newspeak behind. He decamps to the isolated Scottish Isle of Jura in order to spend a few months in the cottage where George Orwell wrote most of his seminal novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ray is miserable, and quite prepared to make his troubles go away with the help of copious quantities of excellent scotch. But a few of the local islanders take a decidedly shallow view of a foreigner coming to visit in order to sort himself out, and Ray quickly finds himself having to deal with not only his own issues but also a community whose eccentricities are at times amusing and at others downright dangerous. Also, the locals believe—or claim to believe—that there’s a werewolf about, and against his better judgment, Ray’s misadventures build to the night of a traditional, boozy werewolf hunt on the Isle of Jura on the summer solstice.


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A darkly comic debut novel about advertising, truth, single malt, Scottish hospitality—or lack thereof—and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.   Ray Welter, who was until recently a highflying advertising executive in Chicago, has left the world of newspeak behind. He decamps to the isolated Scottish Isle of Jura in order to spend a few months in the cottage where George A darkly comic debut novel about advertising, truth, single malt, Scottish hospitality—or lack thereof—and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.   Ray Welter, who was until recently a highflying advertising executive in Chicago, has left the world of newspeak behind. He decamps to the isolated Scottish Isle of Jura in order to spend a few months in the cottage where George Orwell wrote most of his seminal novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ray is miserable, and quite prepared to make his troubles go away with the help of copious quantities of excellent scotch. But a few of the local islanders take a decidedly shallow view of a foreigner coming to visit in order to sort himself out, and Ray quickly finds himself having to deal with not only his own issues but also a community whose eccentricities are at times amusing and at others downright dangerous. Also, the locals believe—or claim to believe—that there’s a werewolf about, and against his better judgment, Ray’s misadventures build to the night of a traditional, boozy werewolf hunt on the Isle of Jura on the summer solstice.

30 review for Burning Down George Orwell's House

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    An enjoyably peculiar exploration of questions about integrity and belief -- juggles real-deal whiskey, a real-deal talented painter, a real-deal masterpiece by a man who wrote under another name, marital deceit, a menacing cryptozoological presence (no way the hairy guy who claims he's a werewolf is really a werewolf, right?), and an elaborate and ingenious yet ultimately really evil advertising campaign. Lots of well-observed moments (Molly's bare legs), some philosophical ideation (down with An enjoyably peculiar exploration of questions about integrity and belief -- juggles real-deal whiskey, a real-deal talented painter, a real-deal masterpiece by a man who wrote under another name, marital deceit, a menacing cryptozoological presence (no way the hairy guy who claims he's a werewolf is really a werewolf, right?), and an elaborate and ingenious yet ultimately really evil advertising campaign. Lots of well-observed moments (Molly's bare legs), some philosophical ideation (down with dualities, long live natural complexity!), and a general vibe of good-naturedness (despite a despicable character or two and a few unfortunate/ouchie events) made this more than a tale of a sad sack man trying to change his life by changing his scene. The first half of the backstory bits (the Oil Hogg stuff) really jumps off the page. The conclusion reminded me of that line in "Losing My Edge" by LCD Soundsystem: "I hear you're buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real. You want to make a Yaz record." Or one of those Portlandia skits about authentic work. Definitely worth a look, along with the author's first one, Extraordinary Renditions.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This book tries to do many things - it has a hint of dystopia, not very fleshed out. It is somewhat biographical about Orwell, but only to explain why the main character ends up on the Isle of Jura. It talks a bit about advertising and tries to connect it to Orwell's 1984. Written differently, I think the advertising guy fleeing to the Hebrides could have been a compelling story except... This is a book about whiskey. The author talks more about whiskey - the different varieties, how they taste a This book tries to do many things - it has a hint of dystopia, not very fleshed out. It is somewhat biographical about Orwell, but only to explain why the main character ends up on the Isle of Jura. It talks a bit about advertising and tries to connect it to Orwell's 1984. Written differently, I think the advertising guy fleeing to the Hebrides could have been a compelling story except... This is a book about whiskey. The author talks more about whiskey - the different varieties, how they taste and smell, oh the peat, oh the caramel - than any of the rest of those topics combined. I think he should consider writing a "Whiskey of the Hebrides" book since that seems to be the true fascination. It watered down (har har) the rest of the novel.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Casey

    So, I "read" this book as a digital audiobook from my local library. I am sad that it is taking up precious space in the nearly infinite cloud because it doesn't deserve any. We've gotten this story handed to us a million, billion times before. This story is the Western canon, only much less well done. It is trite. Man becomes disillusioned with society, goes off to find himself, discovers you can't escape yourself, comes home a changed man. It's not a bad *story* exactly, it's just that we've a So, I "read" this book as a digital audiobook from my local library. I am sad that it is taking up precious space in the nearly infinite cloud because it doesn't deserve any. We've gotten this story handed to us a million, billion times before. This story is the Western canon, only much less well done. It is trite. Man becomes disillusioned with society, goes off to find himself, discovers you can't escape yourself, comes home a changed man. It's not a bad *story* exactly, it's just that we've all read it before. Many, many times. And much better written. Although I will say that his descriptions of Scotch were quite lovely and, had I been reading a book about Scotch, I would have given it an A+. Unfortunately, I was instead reading a book about a whiny, self-absorbed prick whose attitude was consistently poor and had a "why does the world hate me?" approach to everything. Perhaps the world hates you because you have nothing whatsoever to offer it in terms of personality or even the slightest consideration of other people. Ray doesn't go home for his father's funeral, doesn't help his sister take care of their ailing mother (I'm fairly certain he doesn't even send money even though he's supposedly loaded because he is, of course, a marketing *genius*, far above those other proles [if I heard that word one more time, I was going to just stop hate reading and rinse my earholes with acid]), and has the audacity to think that his sister is the lucky one because she "believes in the divinity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and enjoys the network sitcoms". Are you shitting me, Ray? You're an asshole. An absolute asshole. Oh, and by the way? That's all you'll learn about his sister because women are nothing but props and pitfalls in this man's journey. By the time we made it through Ray's marriage up to his divorce, I knew more about the villain's aging truck than I knew about Ray's wife. And don't you worry, folks, he manages to fit a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in there too, even though she could be completely removed from the story and replaced with a particularly well-written leaflet on environmentalism. Alternate Titles: Burning Down George Orwell's House Because I'm a Raging Alcoholic Women Are Mirrors, Not People The Wolf Doesn't Eat Him, No Matter How Many Times You Hope It Does Symbolism is Hard, Y'all, But Everything is a Symbol for My Penis Why Are People Rude to Me Just Because I Openly Judge and Condemn Everything About Them You Backasswards Scots Should Appreciate My Sophisticated American Self Even Though I'm Wrong About Everything Mmm, Scotch

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I think everyone has held the “cottage by the sea” dream aloft in our imagination, thinking at times it to be the ideal solution for when life gets messy or our decisions turn out to be disasters. I can see my cottage so clearly that I wonder where I saw it; what gave me the definite image of the white shutters on the gray siding, the crisp brick chimney placed just so? Climbing roses tumbling down around a small fence, with the ubiquitous Adirondack chair (painted bright turquoise) facing a lov I think everyone has held the “cottage by the sea” dream aloft in our imagination, thinking at times it to be the ideal solution for when life gets messy or our decisions turn out to be disasters. I can see my cottage so clearly that I wonder where I saw it; what gave me the definite image of the white shutters on the gray siding, the crisp brick chimney placed just so? Climbing roses tumbling down around a small fence, with the ubiquitous Adirondack chair (painted bright turquoise) facing a lovely calm bay? Was it described in a book? A dubious Hallmark movie? Or, maybe… was it in an advertisement? Someone selling paint? Easy-Gro plants? Detergent? You may find yourself questioning the origin of your dream cottage (admit it…you have one, if not by the sea, by a lake) when you get submerged in Andrew Ervin’s new novel, Burning Down George Orwell’s House. Sure, we know that such a fantasy, were it to happen, would be full of inconveniences. It would be completely worth going without electricity, internet, and Amazon just to be able to think and get away from other humans. And this is the plan that Ray Welter makes a reality when he heads to the island of Jura, just off the Scottish mainland, fleeing both a failing marriage and a dubious job decision as an advertising executive at the cutting-edge firm, Logos. Cutting off all ties to his life, he packs a few books and sets out to find the time and space to think. “Ray wanted to know again, to be able to delineate right and wrong in an un-deconstructed world of certainty. He wanted to feel the security of binary opposition. Good and bad.” To be sure, Ray’s cottage is far different from ours in its providence: it was once the home of George Orwell, writer of one of the most readable books on the required reading list of any high school. I studied 1984 in 1984, and everyone in our age bracket immediately understood the significance of Doublespeak and Big Brother. It seemed extreme, but possible. In the thirty years since, it isn’t inevitable, it simply is. Getting a cold and bumpy start, Welter finds that many inconveniences are eased by drinking whisky and napping. Lots of whisky. In fact, it appears to be the only thing that keeps Jura functional, and the good stuff is distilled right on the island. The rain is endless, and the few residents he meets are an odd and cantankerous bunch that makes me fear Gerard Butler may be as bizarre and scary as them. That thought alone would garner a dram of whisky. While intending to study Orwell and get a sense of what inspired his most original and frightening vision of the future, Welter offends nearly everyone in his journey, until he’s finally alone at the cottage (more like a palace but I’ve committed to a cottage). And then, with the dream a complete reality, and the nasty world behind him, and the cottage fire going, Welter is surprised to find himself a bit lost, maybe even bored. Having time to think may not be in his best interests: “As long as Ray could remember, since he was a little kid running amok in the endless rows of corn, his mind had contained partitioned rooms he knew not to enter; in them were countless self-perceptions better left un-thought about and which generated moods that later in life –particularly after his career at Logos took off – his personal safety required him to avoid. But left by himself for days on end, half-dozing next to a dying fire, with the large amounts of whisky unable to fight off the constant din of the rain, he couldn’t help himself from picking open those locks and peering inside.” Strange parallels of his life twist into irony that is Orwellian. The first week there, he feels watched, as if every movement is being observed by a nefarious unknown. And while he wanted to observe that gorgeous and refreshing seascape, the rain blots out any vision: he’s blind to what he’s looking for. Death pays a visit too, as he’s being gifted with disemboweled animals on his porch, attributed quite simply to one of the islander’s being a werewolf. As werewolves go, this one is pretty wise. He tells Welter, “remember that the difference between myth and reality isn’t quite as distinct here on Jura as you might believe.” This dichotomy plays out in both the scenery and his interactions with the island’s residents in scenes that are often tense but sometimes very funny. Welter’s study of Orwell is distracted by an abused young woman (of the jailbait variety) and her villainous father who hates all intruders into what he considers the old and traditional life Jura holds (tourists be damned). Change is feared by all on the island, but Welter comes with the mindset of an advertiser, where change is encouraged and necessary to remain profitable, and thus to exist. Strange neighbors, endless sheep, torture by bagpipe, and the arduous terrain keeps him from ever finding a comfort zone, and this is probably the point that Ervin is directing us towards. This is most telling in a particularly revelatory tour of the Jura distillery, where Welter learns that the process of aging whiskey to perfection has a distinct subtext of living life to the full, in the present: “The size of the cask and the location, that’s how every malt gets its distinct flavors. And from the geographical location of the distillery and the tiniest variations of coastline and altitude too.” Whiskey as metaphor. Of course. The collision between stasis and change form a battle that goes beyond the novel. It reels in Welter’s reflections from his time on Jura to his pre-Jura meltdown, even to the times of his childhood where Ervin sneaks in some tiny details that are revealing later. It extends across economic, geographic, and family connections and surprises with an unexpected lightness rather than despondence. Releases today, May 5, 2015. Special thanks to Soho Books for the Review Copy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    The novel was darkly comic. What I mean when I say that is I laughed at times where the characters seemed ridiculous or absurd. Even if terrible things were happening there was a nervous hilarity to them. The narrative moves pretty quickly. The prose style is fluid and engaging. There were many times where I stopped to picture the landscape. Like in Extraordinary Renditions, the author really knows how to put the reader in the atmosphere and mood of the place he's writing about. I think the nove The novel was darkly comic. What I mean when I say that is I laughed at times where the characters seemed ridiculous or absurd. Even if terrible things were happening there was a nervous hilarity to them. The narrative moves pretty quickly. The prose style is fluid and engaging. There were many times where I stopped to picture the landscape. Like in Extraordinary Renditions, the author really knows how to put the reader in the atmosphere and mood of the place he's writing about. I think the novel does a great job of demystifying George Orwell. It's critique of 1984 (the main character is obsessed with the book) is something pundits who throw the word 'Orwellian' around on TV should read. They might learn a goddamn thing or two. In fact, I think most people might learn that Orwell Was An Optimist. Ray, the main character, is flawed, but I never stopped caring about his story. The book is with him throughout--whether it be in Chicago showing his old life in advertising or drinking himself silly on the Isle of Jura. The parts set in Chicago explore his previous life and what lead him to escape to George Orwell's house. I liked this book a lot because I related to Ray and his ideas. I recommend it to anyone who has considered the idea of living 'off the grid.' Being off the grid was a fantasy I had in the past--to be completely without the nagging modernity or postmodernity or whatever we call the 21st media. Somehow--and my thoughts our still mushy--the book manages to make a statement about the importance of community and culture. I think Ray romanticized isolation and suffers and recovers from that ill-conceived notion. Anyway, it's not as dry or boring as I sound! There's a wolf hunt, lots and lots of drams of whiskey, a lovely character named Molly (and her father, Pitcairn, who I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy), and poetic descriptions of the Isle of Jura. It made me want to visit despite all the trappings of the place. Highly recommended!! Can't wait for it's May release!!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    The right setting and the wrong character. The Isle of Jura is wonderfully alive on these pages, and the characters our protagonist affronts there are almost all fascinating. But the main character here (Ray Welter) is as much of a smug pedant as his beloved Orwell. The character arc is predictable from the early pages: disaffected former ad-man escapes vile America for idyllic Scotland only to find that his problems can't be geographically escaped and to return to Chicago a changed, evolved, si The right setting and the wrong character. The Isle of Jura is wonderfully alive on these pages, and the characters our protagonist affronts there are almost all fascinating. But the main character here (Ray Welter) is as much of a smug pedant as his beloved Orwell. The character arc is predictable from the early pages: disaffected former ad-man escapes vile America for idyllic Scotland only to find that his problems can't be geographically escaped and to return to Chicago a changed, evolved, simpler (and in this case even more smug) man. Every stitch of his pre-Jura life in Chicago (about 1/4 to 1/3 of the book) is waste--just pages and pages of my reading life I'll never get back. Ray is a condescending shitbag, a terrible reader of Orwell, a self-centered prick who never really loses that egocentrism, and a general bore. I'd happily return to Jura, which Ervin writes about compellingly, but I can't stand another page of Ray. Perhaps the most disappointing moment of the text is when he is NON-fatally shot. Such a missed opportunity. I mean just a few more inches to the left...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    I picked this ARC up at the MPIBA trade show back in October, firstly because of the title, secondly because there was a wolf on the front cover, and thirdly because it took place in Scotland, where I had recently returned from. Sadly, I did not make it to the Isle of Jura, where the story takes place, but that wasn't going to deter me. Burning Down George Orwell's House tells the story of Ray Welter, once a big time advertiser in Chicago who finds himself on a fairly remote island in the Inner I picked this ARC up at the MPIBA trade show back in October, firstly because of the title, secondly because there was a wolf on the front cover, and thirdly because it took place in Scotland, where I had recently returned from. Sadly, I did not make it to the Isle of Jura, where the story takes place, but that wasn't going to deter me. Burning Down George Orwell's House tells the story of Ray Welter, once a big time advertiser in Chicago who finds himself on a fairly remote island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. After months spent pushing large, gas-guzzling SUVs onto the American public, Ray has a change of heart about who he is and what he's doing with his life. His wife has left him, he's racked with guilt and he has no idea who he is. So he packs up what few belongings he has and blows all his money on a six month lease on George Orwell's old house, the same on in which he wrote most of 1984. Ray has been obsessed with 1984 since he read it years ago. So what better place to come and rediscover yourself? But Ray has to contended with the locals on the island, most of which who are very pleasant and other much less so. Okay, I liked this book for a few reasons. First off, it was set in Scotland. Every time I picked up the book it made me very nostalgic and I got to practice my Scottish accent in my head while I read. Not much really happens in the book as far as action or adventure or anything like that. It was really a story of self discovery and introspection and reflection, which can be really boring and preachy if you don't do it well. But I would say Ervin did a very nice job. The story and Ray's own journey seemed dependent on the story of 1984 but not in a way like it was a crutch. Ray's journey seemed almost a mirror of Winston Smith's journey but inverted. Smith was opposed to the oppression of Big Brother but in the end admires the regime. Ray puts himself in a world he feels is very similar to that of Big Brother (the advertising world) and works to manipulate people into thinking they want something and then tries to escape our very Orwellian world. I feel like the book is very topical to our own day and age. So much of our lives can be, and will be, dictated by what we are fed by the media, by our government, by however is looking to make a buck off of us and keep us in line. I appreciate very much Ray's struggle to figure out who he is and what really matters to him. It's a very admiral thing to do, especially since not everyone is so quick to question the way things are. I certainly don't think this kind of book is for everyone. I would say you have to enjoy more literary types of work to pick this book up. But I certainly liked it. P.S. There's a werewolf and lots of scotch, too. ~Ren

  8. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This was going to be 2 stars but since it kept me reading with interest, it earned the third star. Basic premise interesting. Disenchanted advertising man with a knack for understanding human foibles and how to exploit them, gets tired of working for "The Man". Drinks too much, throws away a great marriage and takes himself to the Island of Jura off the coast of Scotland. You'd expect once there he'd make an attempt to "find" himself. Instead he spends 3 weeks sinking deeper into alcolism, near This was going to be 2 stars but since it kept me reading with interest, it earned the third star. Basic premise interesting. Disenchanted advertising man with a knack for understanding human foibles and how to exploit them, gets tired of working for "The Man". Drinks too much, throws away a great marriage and takes himself to the Island of Jura off the coast of Scotland. You'd expect once there he'd make an attempt to "find" himself. Instead he spends 3 weeks sinking deeper into alcolism, near to alcohol poisoning and whines about the fact that solitude isn't what he thought it would be. He's finally "rescued" by a stereotype brilliant and beautiful 17 years old trying to escape her crazy, homicidal father who teaches him how to use a generator and hikes around the island with him. But, NO SEX as they both loudly assert to each other. Trust me, sex would have helped the book! I love single malt scotch and know quite a bit about it. However, by the end of this book, even I was sick of hearing his delight in all the drams he consumed. During all of this, he supposedly clings to the text of Orwell's 1984 as a guide to the evils of the world.Did I mention that he is renting the same house Orwell rented while writing the book? There are several references to 1984 but they are not fully fleshed out,certainly not made relevant to the flash backs of his life in Chicago. In the end, several attempts on his life by the deranged father of the 17 year old, he returns to Chicago and makes a nonsensical career decision. The book had a good premise and some interesting passages about modern advertising and Scotland. But it felt slapped together too quickly. Another several months with a good editor might have helped.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Forrest Link

    There is some very good writing here and some quite clever dark humor. But the book tries to do too many things and there are more loose ends than I might have preferred. It reminded me very much of the book and movie Local Hero from the 1980's--a harried executive seeking simplicity escapes urban living to a remote village in Scotland where a group of colorful characters is encountered. The Orwell theme, aside from almost gratuitous mentions of surveillance cameras, is either too subtle for thi There is some very good writing here and some quite clever dark humor. But the book tries to do too many things and there are more loose ends than I might have preferred. It reminded me very much of the book and movie Local Hero from the 1980's--a harried executive seeking simplicity escapes urban living to a remote village in Scotland where a group of colorful characters is encountered. The Orwell theme, aside from almost gratuitous mentions of surveillance cameras, is either too subtle for this reader or a really unnecessary hook.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Audra (ouija.reads)

    Whisky, Winston Smith, and werewolves? Oh my! This is solid debut novel with good writing. It's clear that the author has thought a lot about Orwell and 1984, and the only clunky parts of the book were when he goes too "literary theory" and feels the need to flag down the similarities between the themes of 1984 and main character Ray's situation like an insane airplane marshall. What is interesting is the parallel though inverted journeys of Winston Smith and Ray Welter. While Winston fights Big Whisky, Winston Smith, and werewolves? Oh my! This is solid debut novel with good writing. It's clear that the author has thought a lot about Orwell and 1984, and the only clunky parts of the book were when he goes too "literary theory" and feels the need to flag down the similarities between the themes of 1984 and main character Ray's situation like an insane airplane marshall. What is interesting is the parallel though inverted journeys of Winston Smith and Ray Welter. While Winston fights Big Brother for as long as possible before succumbing to save himself (which itself is debatable and we don't have to go into it here), Ray has built his life by supporting Big Brother. As a high-powered ad executive, he uses propaganda and cunning persuasion to make most of America think they want gas-guzzling, environmentally unfriendly SUVs. With the weight of his bad choices piling around him, he looks for escape on the Isle of Jura, a remote island of Scotland's Outer Hebrides where Orwell penned his classic dystopian novel. What I find myself still thinking about is if in the end Ray becomes enlightened and makes a free decision to end up where he does, or if he is just like Winston Smith, succumbing to the powers that be and letting them control him if only to maintain a bit of himself and his sanity. The similarities between 1984's Julia and Molly, the young Scottish girl Ray befriends, are striking, especially in the ending. I don't want to give it away, but Molly's final decision is a confusing one. Maybe Ray, like Winston, realizes that Big Brother is going to be there no matter how far he runs. Is the ending optimistic or not? I think it can be read both ways, but you'll have to read for yourself to see. A quick read, but a good summer book with a lot more meat to it than any of the pulpy beach fiction floating around right now.

  11. 4 out of 5

    AdiTurbo

    I was really pulled into this one. It's main character, Ray, isn't a very lovable man, but you can identify with his need to get away from everything and try to clear his mind someplace he believes to be completely isolated. Unfortunately, no such place exists in the world anymore. Everywhere you go, there you are - you take yourself and all of your baggage with you, and there are others there, too. These others have their own agendas, madnesses, personality problems and past. I think the Orwell I was really pulled into this one. It's main character, Ray, isn't a very lovable man, but you can identify with his need to get away from everything and try to clear his mind someplace he believes to be completely isolated. Unfortunately, no such place exists in the world anymore. Everywhere you go, there you are - you take yourself and all of your baggage with you, and there are others there, too. These others have their own agendas, madnesses, personality problems and past. I think the Orwell connection was pretty weak, and that Ray doesn't really love 1984 as much as he says he does, or doesn't relly understand it. In any rate, the writer doesn't go enough into this idea, which is the stated issue of the title. The strongest parts of the book were the ones taking place on the island of Jura, which keeps surprising Ray and is almost nothing like its fantasy of it. I love how the British seem to have more tolerance towards eccentricity and difference than anyone else in the world, and this is also clear in this novel. This tendency is marred though by their apparent inherent dislike of anyone "foreign", or maybe they're just not as hypocritical about it as others are. Very enjoyable, even suspenseful at times, and gives you a lot to think about when it's done.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    On the cover of Andrew Ervin's debut novel reads a blurb by the late, tremendously-great Robert Stone, an undeniable master of observation. Stone's influence on Ervin's writing and Burning Down George Orwell's House is inescapable, in the best possible way. Burning Down meditates heavily on Orwell and Scotch, two things I know nothing about, but Ervin's humor, descriptive power, and brilliant characterization (particularly Molly, who I initially wrote-off as simply being future fodder for protag On the cover of Andrew Ervin's debut novel reads a blurb by the late, tremendously-great Robert Stone, an undeniable master of observation. Stone's influence on Ervin's writing and Burning Down George Orwell's House is inescapable, in the best possible way. Burning Down meditates heavily on Orwell and Scotch, two things I know nothing about, but Ervin's humor, descriptive power, and brilliant characterization (particularly Molly, who I initially wrote-off as simply being future fodder for protagonist, Ray Welter's, bed, but quickly transformed into a refreshingly strong, nuanced female) drew me in regardless. The story of Ray and his interactions with the inhabitants of Scottish Isle, Jura, alone make for a compelling read, but it's the island itself that elevates the novel to exemplary status. Simultaneously depicted as a secluded paradise and a getaway gone hellishly wrong, Ervin's Jura is alive, though obstinate; whiskey-smooth, but oppressive. It's the perfect setting for a delightful subversion of the escapist fantasy. A damn fine book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Roaming Rosie

    Right after I started reading this book, I was thinking to myself, "gee, do we really need ANOTHER book telling us how Big Brother is watching us and how we've all fallen into a whirlpool of consumerism?" And this thought went through my mind as I drove past some construction. My next thought was, "oh! The new outlet mall is almost done! Cool!" I noticed the irony right away and went back to reading the book as soon as I got home. So I guess what I'm saying is, yes. Yes, we do need another book Right after I started reading this book, I was thinking to myself, "gee, do we really need ANOTHER book telling us how Big Brother is watching us and how we've all fallen into a whirlpool of consumerism?" And this thought went through my mind as I drove past some construction. My next thought was, "oh! The new outlet mall is almost done! Cool!" I noticed the irony right away and went back to reading the book as soon as I got home. So I guess what I'm saying is, yes. Yes, we do need another book bashing our current society. Perhaps we always will. However - and this is super important - the best part about this book is that it does this in an entertaining way. Because a novel should always have an interesting story. And, preferably, whisky. And this one has both. It's actually a fun read and - even if you don't like or agree with all of the characters (or even the main character) - it's still worth reading. Even if you manage to miss the profound message, you'll still enjoy the journey.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carla

    I think what drew me to this book at first was the title! Then the description sounded so interesting. Then I read it, and enjoyed it immensely! Debut novel by Andrew Ervin takes place firstly in Chicago before he "escapes" to the Outer Herbrides to the isle of Jura to re-evaluate his life and get away from "Big Brother" while re-reading and being immersed in George Orwells 1984 and the place where he wrote it. Mr. Ervin has a unique story-telling ability, that kept me engrossed during either co I think what drew me to this book at first was the title! Then the description sounded so interesting. Then I read it, and enjoyed it immensely! Debut novel by Andrew Ervin takes place firstly in Chicago before he "escapes" to the Outer Herbrides to the isle of Jura to re-evaluate his life and get away from "Big Brother" while re-reading and being immersed in George Orwells 1984 and the place where he wrote it. Mr. Ervin has a unique story-telling ability, that kept me engrossed during either comic interludes, or meditative experiences. The people of the island were frightfully engaging and sometimes over the top, but this just added to the joyful experience of reading this book. Wonderfully done!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Meh. The writing in this book is actually pretty good, and probably why I finished the whole book. The idea of the story isn't bad, either. A guy in his mid-life crisis goes to a remote island to meditate on his life and the book 1984. But he doesn't really figure out much about his life, nor does he go into much depth about 1984. In fact, what's marketed as depth is really superficial regarding the classic novel the protagonist is so obsessed with. He continually says he can't describe why he's Meh. The writing in this book is actually pretty good, and probably why I finished the whole book. The idea of the story isn't bad, either. A guy in his mid-life crisis goes to a remote island to meditate on his life and the book 1984. But he doesn't really figure out much about his life, nor does he go into much depth about 1984. In fact, what's marketed as depth is really superficial regarding the classic novel the protagonist is so obsessed with. He continually says he can't describe why he's obsessed with it. Then the characters are so one-dimensional, and don't even seem to act the way you'd think they would. And then there's the very unsatisfying ending, no real emotion or catharsis, or anything important. Too bad, it had some potential.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Vivienne Strauss

    Fun read but could have been better, all the talk of scotch whiskey was beyond tedious.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

    What a self satisfied, self important little book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    The Scotland scenes are solid - a disillusioned advertising executive tries to find meaning in Orwell's old haunts - but are undermined by 70 pages of Chicago backstory. Good premise but not fully realized. The Scotland scenes are solid - a disillusioned advertising executive tries to find meaning in Orwell's old haunts - but are undermined by 70 pages of Chicago backstory. Good premise but not fully realized.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Colin Rogers

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. In this episode: the author’s barely-concealed fetish. Our gallant protagonist nobly declines to sleep with not one, but two women who could be his daughter. One is the brilliant, sexy, artistic, often-nude 17-year old redhead who inhabits the island and spends a few weeks with the protagonist while he desperately tries to not gawk at her alternating between sunbathing, stripping in front of him, and painting nude self-portraits. This is just such an awful trope that is as creepy as it is utterl In this episode: the author’s barely-concealed fetish. Our gallant protagonist nobly declines to sleep with not one, but two women who could be his daughter. One is the brilliant, sexy, artistic, often-nude 17-year old redhead who inhabits the island and spends a few weeks with the protagonist while he desperately tries to not gawk at her alternating between sunbathing, stripping in front of him, and painting nude self-portraits. This is just such an awful trope that is as creepy as it is utterly boring, and dashed my already-tenuous feeling of immersion into a million pieces as I was reading. The author receives exactly zero points for ultimately having his protagonist not sleep with her (despite plenty of adds-nothing-to-character-development-or-plot sexual tension) although I suppose this would be a one-star review if they had consummated it, so maybe it counts for a very slight something. The other is his less-discussed employee, who at least is 21, but still has an easy-breezy flirtatious sexuality that borders on comically overdone. The reader is left with the impression is that the hero merely missed the chance to sleep with her, and would likely have if he had the chance. Indeed, she is writing him letters by the end of the book that suggest she’s open for that in the future. The book itself is just okay. Classic search-for-meaning in the nihilistic void of whiskey and edge-of-the-earth dramatic escapism. “Smart phones and advertising are bad” is hardly a dramatic statement even in the often ham-handed world of fiction. Dash in some poor Jonathan Lethem-imitating faux surrealism (is there a werewolf? is there not? ooh spooky) and you have a forgettable trope-fest peppered with the very occasional well-written line. It’s just painfully obvious that this is written by a well-educated, intellectual, yet predictably disenchanted white guy. And I am all of those things myself! So if this book doesn’t appeal to me, who on earth would enjoy it? No wonder it was $2.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Martha Bullen

    This book lives up to its intriguing title and premise. A burnt-out Chicago ad executive, Ray Welter, flees to the remote Scottish island of Jura to follow in the footsteps of his literary hero, George Orwell. His life crashing around him, he escapes the modern world and its Orwellian surveillance to live in the house where Orwell lived in 1946. Needless to say, the house and island don't live up to Ray's dream of an idyllic getaway. The weather is frightful, many of the natives are hostile, and This book lives up to its intriguing title and premise. A burnt-out Chicago ad executive, Ray Welter, flees to the remote Scottish island of Jura to follow in the footsteps of his literary hero, George Orwell. His life crashing around him, he escapes the modern world and its Orwellian surveillance to live in the house where Orwell lived in 1946. Needless to say, the house and island don't live up to Ray's dream of an idyllic getaway. The weather is frightful, many of the natives are hostile, and their customs are baffling, such as their solstice werewolf hunt. While Ray is miserable and mopey for most of this book (which made me want to tell him to stop whining and snap out of it), he is ecstatic about the local whisky, which inspires the best lyrical descriptions in the novel: "It tasted like French kissing a leather-clad supermodel." "Ray took another sip.... It tasted like caramel and wood smoke and moonlight glowing on a winning lottery ticket." "The bottle of single malt is a time capsule. A record of the natural life of Jura." "The alchemical process that had produced their contents utilized little more than earth and air and water and time." I don't even like whisky, but he certainly made it sound enticing. As the story unfolds, we learn about Ray's successes in the ad world, his diabolically clever campaign to promote a gas-guzzling SUV, how he torpedoed his marriage and how he can begin to put his life back together. This is an entertaining read for fans of George Orwell, Scotland, whisky and black humor. This story also has a promising future as an indie movie. I can hear Ervin's agent pitching Hollywood now: "Mad Man meets Wolf Man." What a great high concept idea for a film.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Zell

    Ray is a clever advertising executive that learns how to use social media to manipulate his cause. He makes money but he has lost his way. The death of his father in a chemical plant finally unhinges him. His marriage is on the rocks, he has no energy, he does not believe in his career. He decides he wants to go to the remote Isle of Jura, in Scotland where George Orwell wrote 1984. 1984 is one of the few books that Ray has and he stays in Barnhill where Orwell completed the book. Ray has all ma Ray is a clever advertising executive that learns how to use social media to manipulate his cause. He makes money but he has lost his way. The death of his father in a chemical plant finally unhinges him. His marriage is on the rocks, he has no energy, he does not believe in his career. He decides he wants to go to the remote Isle of Jura, in Scotland where George Orwell wrote 1984. 1984 is one of the few books that Ray has and he stays in Barnhill where Orwell completed the book. Ray has all manner of adventures with the local folk including sharing house with the daughter of the man who pushes him into a whirlpool and shoots him. Ray lives. And, in the course of his adventures, he learns again who he is and how he wants to spend his time. He returns to Chicago but not to his old life. Ervin tells a compelling story that is hard to put down. All the while he treats us to a brief introduction to Orwell's writings and life. He shows us the challenges and joys of living in a closed community. He makes me want to visit Barnhill, but I will definitely be buying wellies and a proper raincoat when I get to the store!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    You could call it "Mad Men" meets "Brigadoon." This smart, literate novel tells the story of an Orwell-lovving Chicago ad exec who, after burning all his bridges, moves to the Scottish-island house where "1984," was written. Even though this book gets 3 1/2 stars from me, the descriptions of drinking really good single malt scotch get 5 stars. For instance, "It was like french-kissing a leather-clad supermodel," made perfect sense to me, even though I am not attracted to women. On the downside, You could call it "Mad Men" meets "Brigadoon." This smart, literate novel tells the story of an Orwell-lovving Chicago ad exec who, after burning all his bridges, moves to the Scottish-island house where "1984," was written. Even though this book gets 3 1/2 stars from me, the descriptions of drinking really good single malt scotch get 5 stars. For instance, "It was like french-kissing a leather-clad supermodel," made perfect sense to me, even though I am not attracted to women. On the downside, this book feels too short, and the flashback chapters pale in comparison to the scenes set in Scotland. Still worth reading.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Tuttle

    I don't suppose that the author's fictional take on Jura will be very popular on the island, but it's very entertaining, with special appeal to all fans of George Orwell and single malt whisky. (This is a book I wish I could have talked to Iain Banks about.) I simply could not resist reading a novel that begins with this actual quote from one of Orwell's letters: "A shop near here sells mandrakes, but I'm afraid they won't have been procured in the correct manner. Remind me sometime to tell you I don't suppose that the author's fictional take on Jura will be very popular on the island, but it's very entertaining, with special appeal to all fans of George Orwell and single malt whisky. (This is a book I wish I could have talked to Iain Banks about.) I simply could not resist reading a novel that begins with this actual quote from one of Orwell's letters: "A shop near here sells mandrakes, but I'm afraid they won't have been procured in the correct manner. Remind me sometime to tell you an interesting thing about werewolves."

  24. 4 out of 5

    C.J. Hill

    A man who realises that his life is everything George Orwell said it would be seeks to escape it by renting said author's cottage on a remote Scottish Island. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he realises that life is not any better when suffering hardships and the unfriendliness of the locals and so returns home. A slightly different twist on the usual 'change your life and learn to be happy' model so often used. A man who realises that his life is everything George Orwell said it would be seeks to escape it by renting said author's cottage on a remote Scottish Island. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he realises that life is not any better when suffering hardships and the unfriendliness of the locals and so returns home. A slightly different twist on the usual 'change your life and learn to be happy' model so often used.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    It may be too late to stop Big Brother and pollution. Redeem yourself and drink good Scotch: that seems this book's solution. It may be too late to stop Big Brother and pollution. Redeem yourself and drink good Scotch: that seems this book's solution.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Quick, easy read. The descriptions of the Isle of Jura and great and the characters of the inhabitants interesting. Unfortunately, the narrator is the least interesting/most predictable....

  27. 5 out of 5

    Denise Smith

    Perhaps a glass of scotch would have made this book more tolerable or readable.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    Lots of good ideas, none of which are fleshed out well.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Leeza

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I asked the internet to recommend to me a book about being disillusioned in the workplace and it’s first suggestion was ‘Burning Down George Orwell’s House’. It appealed to me because, much like the novel’s main character, I am also a dead-inside employee at an ad agency. I wanted to read a book about a yuppie whining and I got one. The first half of the novel was great—I couldn’t put it down. It was funny and relatable in some parts. The writing itself gets an A+ from me. It’s rare that I feel i I asked the internet to recommend to me a book about being disillusioned in the workplace and it’s first suggestion was ‘Burning Down George Orwell’s House’. It appealed to me because, much like the novel’s main character, I am also a dead-inside employee at an ad agency. I wanted to read a book about a yuppie whining and I got one. The first half of the novel was great—I couldn’t put it down. It was funny and relatable in some parts. The writing itself gets an A+ from me. It’s rare that I feel immersed in a book so quickly. Where things start to degrade to a solid C- was the plot itself. By the time we’re at the second flashback in Chicago, I’m wondering “what the fuck is going on? Why is there talk of werewolves? Why does Pitcairn hate the main character so much?” and more. The second half mostly felt like a fever dream. Other things I liked: - Thumbs up for having the main character not sleep with a 17-year-old girl (I just watched A Teacher on Hulu so I’m ultra glad to see adults not manipulating young people) - The character’s time spent in the house when there was no electricity or running water - I’ve never read 1984, but I will now Things I didn’t like: - what was the point of the wolf?? It’s definitely one of those things where I’m trying to decide if the wolves/werewolves thing was deep or dumb - I sincerely stopped caring about the character’s previous life in Chicago and would’ve preferred if the story only focused on his journey in Jura, with the story of how he ended up there cut down significantly

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sophie Glazer

    House-burning has been on my mind since I read that troubling scene Bettelheim describes in “Children of the Dream,” when a group of young kibbutzniks describe how they set fire to a small house and watched it burn with delight. Somehow, I’m finding that scene occurring over and over again and strangely enough it’s authors’ houses that get singed in the novels I’m reading nowadays. “An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England,” by Brock Clarke, sent me down a smoky, ashy path, to “Burni House-burning has been on my mind since I read that troubling scene Bettelheim describes in “Children of the Dream,” when a group of young kibbutzniks describe how they set fire to a small house and watched it burn with delight. Somehow, I’m finding that scene occurring over and over again and strangely enough it’s authors’ houses that get singed in the novels I’m reading nowadays. “An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England,” by Brock Clarke, sent me down a smoky, ashy path, to “Burning Down George Orwell’s House” by Andrew Ervin, a very dark comedy indeed about a burnt-out advertising genius who goes to the Scottish isle of Jura, where Orwell wrote “1984,” to come to terms with the increasingly Orwellian flavor of the world that he has helped to create. In the world of smart-phones and selfies, “Chicago had become a police state with no need for policemen. On the grid, under constant surveillance, every individual was Big Brother incarnate.” Ervin’s hero throws his smart phone into the ocean, and imagines that in the isolated Scottish island he can live completely off the grid, live as Orwell did, drinking superb single malt Scotch. But even Orwell found his isolation on Jura strangely seasoned: “Remind me sometime to tell you an interesting thing about werewolves,” Orwell wrote to a friend from Jura. Wherever we go, we’ll find predators and prey: it was Orwell who invited us to see how porous that defining line is, how easy it is to slip from one side to another.

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